Farmers lung disease is a common form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) and is characterized by inflammation and granuloma formation in the lung. Interferon-gamma is important for the expression of granulomatous diseases caused by infectious agents; however, the role this mediator in regulating expression of the granulomatous response to inhaled antigen is not known. To evaluate this, we compared the response to inhaled antigen of mice that do not express the gene coding for interferon-gamma (GKO) with that of their normal littermates (WT). GKO and WT mice on a BALB/c background were exposed to 150 microg of the thermophilic bacteria Saccharopolyspora rectivirgula or saline alone, for three consecutive days a week, for 3 wk. After exposure to antigen, WT mice developed a marked granulomatous inflammation associated with an increase in lung weight and numbers of cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BAL). Although GKO mice also exhibited an increase in lung weight and numbers of cells in BAL fluid, they developed minimal inflammation and no granulomas after a similar exposure to antigen. To further evaluate if the lack of a response to antigen in GKO mice was due to lack of IFN-gamma, we replaced this mediator via intraperitoneal injections. When given replacement IFN-gamma, the GKO mice developed granulomatous inflammation in the lung. These studies show that IFN-gamma is essential for the expression of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.